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Poetry and Medicine
March 3, 2010

Hymn of Skin

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

JAMA. 2010;303(9):818. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.170

Touch this one inch of skin and send
a thousand nerve endings to their knees.
Prick it and risk the run of twenty blood vessels.
Sever this layer to enter the dark territory
of the interior—a six-inch scar lets nothing out
that ought to stay in. And how about those
sixty thousand melanocytes per inch that determine
the color of me and when overexposed to UV rays,
can bring the death of me. This one really gets
under my skin—sweat glands in my palms begin
to kick in. Praise, anyway, to the maker
of the excess folds around my knuckles, ankles,
and knees so I can sit cross-legged and curtsy
with no pain, hold a pen without tears between bones,
metacarpals popping out to be tucked back in.
Glory to the lord of fingerprints, heart lines,
head lines, life lines, indents and cavities
fashioned in the womb. How particular your carvings,
how precise your instrument to etch that patterned
Arch, Whorl, or Loop unique in every instance.
Plastic surgeon of the heavens, how I delight
in a furrowed brow, crow's feet, age spots—
wrinkle me up a dozen times to show I lived
hard, good, funny—after all beauty, being what it is,
is only skin deep—may my soul seep through
dry scales of later hands, resting tranquil in my lap.
O omniscient dermatologist, what ingenuity,
past hurts evident in scrapes and scars—
a clumsy stumble down uneven concrete stairs,
knees and ankle raw and dripping; pockmarked cheeks
from teenage zits—all healed, in the end, but not forgotten.
How often we need reminders of where we’ve been.

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